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TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Croatia's team is jubilant after its two-day comeback to defeat the United States 3-2 in their Davis Cup quarterfinal tie at Tualatin Hills Tennis Center.On a warm, cloudy day with the faintest whisper of a breeze every now and again, the stage was set at Tualatin Hills Tennis Center for the conclusion of a Davis Cup quarterfinal between the United States and Croatia.


Trees peeked over the east side of the 6,000-seat, temporary stadium, serving as a beautiful backdrop for what would be another thrilling day of tennis.

The United States came into the day leading the Croatians 2-1 after sweeping the first round of singles and losing, somewhat unexpectedly, in the doubles round on Saturday.

In order to complete a historic comeback, the Croatians needed to win both singles matches on Sunday.

They did so in grand fashion and became the first country since 1994 to beat the U.S. after being down 0-2.

“Looking back on Friday and being 2-love down and then playing against (the) Bryans yesterday, it didn't look very positive for us,“ Croatian captain Zeljko Krajan said. “I have to say honestly after yesterday's win I was believing we have a good chance today, because I knew Marin (Cilic) and Borna (Coric) are for sure going to raise their level from Friday.”

Raise it they did, as Cilic defeated John Isner 7-6 (9), 6-3, 6-4, and then 19-year-old Coric bested Jack Sock in the deciding match, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

And with that, the final was Croatia 3, U.S. 2 — with the visitors going on to the semifinals against France.

The first set of Cilic’s match with Isner set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Neither player broke the other’s serve for the first 12 games. Cilic emerged victorious 11-9 in the tiebreaker.

Both players held serve a combined 29 times in this three-set match. Isner was never able to break Cilic, and a matchup that had all the makings of a five-set marathon quickly evaporated into a commanding performance from the No. 12-ranked singles player in the world.

“I tried to just lift myself up with the team,” said Cilic, who had led Croatia to its doubles win Saturday as a last-minute substitute, after losing to Sock in singles on Friday. “I was very much emotionally focused to be positive throughout yesterday's match, and also today I felt it helped me to lift my game in critical situations.”

On the match-sealing point against Isner, Cilic jumped in the air, pumped his fist and roared toward the Croatian fans seated at the midcourt line on the west end of the stadium. That fist pump also served as an emphatic passing of the baton to the young Coric, who was tasked with finishing what Cilic started.

It was a tough task, with a worthy opponent in Sock standing in Coric’s way.

On Friday, Sock came back from two sets down and shockingly won an emotional five-set bout with Cilic. On Sunday, the pressure was on Sock to put his team through to the semis.

Dressed in a white shirt and black shorts, Sock stared across the court at Coric, who donned a red shirt, white shorts, a white hat and bright tennis ball-colored shoes. Oddly enough, it’s what Coric did with those feet that stood out even more.

Coric’s speed and mobility were on display throughout the match as he danced and dove every which way to return many of Sock’s serves. In doing so, Coric often let out a grunt that varied in tone and emphasis depending on the situation.

After splitting the first two sets with Sock and showing off his impressive backhand, Coric took a decisive 2-0 lead in the third set. He let out a fierce grunt that rose into a scream as he pumped up the Croatian contingent. Coric took the third set handily.

Coric said it’s not easy to play in a fifth and final Davis Cup match but that he thrives under pressure.

“I like that kind of situation,” he said. “I just like big stage more, when it's more important. When I have more pressure, you know, when the expectations are big, I like those occasions. I think that's what we're training for.”

That’s an undoubtedly impressive attitude for a player in the fetal stages of his career, but not surprising coming from the same player who already has beaten the likes of Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. Coric said this win was comparable.

Frustration set in for Sock in the fourth and final set, as Coric continued to display poise and consistency beyond his years. Unforced errors also led to Sock’s demise, as he went down 5-4 and smashed his racket into his seat in frustration.

Coric dominated the final game and propelled his team onward, much to the delight of the Croatian fans. As the Croatian players and coaches put their arms around one another and danced in a circle, their fans in white and red checkered shirts high-fived and celebrated the prospect of playing on their home court.

“I am a captain for five years. We’ve just played once at home,” Krajan said. “Now we finally get a chance to play a big match, semifinals of Davis Cup. It's unbelievable with the team we have.”

Croatia will face France Sept. 16-18 for a chance to play for its second Davis Cup title.

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